The end of this present year will mark the termination of the second millennium since the birth of Christ. That is to say, it will mark the two thousandth anniversary of that year when, in “the fullness of time . . . God sent forth His Son, born of a woman” (Gal. 4:4). It marks the anniversary of the Angel Gabriel’s announcement to the Virgin Mary “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God” (Lk. 1:35). The fulfillment of that most important event in all human history depended on the consent of this humble maiden. At her consent “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn. 1:14).
While this great anniversary commemorates the incarnation and birth of the Son of God, that event contains the revelation of the mystery of the Trinity, for the only-begotten Son was sent by the Father, and conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary. So when the Divine Word begotten of the Father for all eternity (as to His divine nature) became the Son of Mary (as to His human nature), the three divine Persons of the Trinity acted together in the accomplishment of this great mystery. Whether it is a matter of God coming to us, or our going to God, in either case the three divine Persons are involved as the New Catholic Catechism points out:
When we speak of the inner life of God, we refer to the different relationships of the divine Persons, the FATHER eternally begetting, the SON eternally begotten, and the HOLY SPIRIT eternally proceeding from the mutual love of the Father and the Son. Yet, as we pointed out, when we speak of the redeeming mission of the Incarnate Son of God, it is a work of the three divine Persons, every spiritual gift coming from the Father (Jas. 1:17), merited for us by the Son (Rom. 5:19: Lk. 24:46,47; Heb. 13:8), and infused into the soul by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5). What a marvelous thing it is to realize that the inner life of the divine Persons, that eternal procession of infinite knowledge and love, the contemplation of which will be the source of our beatitude in heaven, takes place within the soul of every person in the state of grace.
It was for these reasons that our Holy Father, in preparation for the millennium, wished to bring about a greater awareness of the three divine Persons dwelling in the soul, whose very life we share through the gift of sanctifying grace. That Trinity of Persons is the infinite source of all reality, from whom all creatures emanate, and to whom all must return. To make us more aware of our relationship with the divine Trinity, the Holy Father directed that a whole year be dedicated to the prayerful reflection of each of the divine Persons.
We are now entering into the third year of that final preparation for the Millennium, the year dedicated to offering special reflection, thanksgiving and adoration to the Father. A reflection on what little we know about the eternal Father, the first Person of the Blessed Trinity, will necessitate a look at what the Scriptures and theology make known to us. The doctrine of the Trinity is the most profound and most fundamental dogma of our Christian faith. While man can come to a knowledge of the existence of God by reason alone, he could never arrive at a knowledge of the divine Trinity without the aid of divine revelation. That doctrine was foreshadowed in the Old Testament, and in the New Testament was taught explicitly by our Lord and His apostles (Mt. 28:19). And even after Christ revealed this truth to us, it remains an incomprehensible mystery beyond our capacity to fathom.
To gain some understanding of what little we know of God the Father, will necessitate a consideration of Him in relation to the other Persons of the Trinity. Being an infinite intelligence, God, in a single and eternal act, perfectly comprehends the plenitude of His divine essence and perfections. In that one eternal thought is expressed the totality of His being and perfections in a mental image or Word. Thus, this infinite intelligence begets an image of Himself (the Word) so perfect that the image begotten is equal in every respect to the intelligence begetting it, constituting a separate divine Person having one and the same divine nature. “I and the Father are one” (Jn. 10:30). Because the inner life of God involves a divine Person begetting, and a divine Person begotten, divine revelation has attributed to them the names of Father and Son. “Our Father who art in heaven” (Mt. 6:9). “Your heavenly Father knows you need these things” (Mt. 6:32). “You are my Son, this day I have begotten you” (Ps. 2:7). “You are my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased” (Lk. 3:22).
Even though the Father willed that His only-begotten Son become man to redeem mankind and to make the Father known, this only-begotten Son does not leave the Father. This divine Word ever dwells “in the bosom of the Father” (Jn. 1:18) in the infinite intelligence that conceives Him. By His very nature, then, the Son is inseparable from the Father eternally begetting Him; and from the mutual love of the Father and the Son there proceeds, as from a single principle, the Holy Spirit, who is the substantial love of the Father and the Son and the bond of union between them.
And thus theology explains the inner life of the divine Trinity, all three Persons having the same infinite perfections, the same wisdom, the same power, the same love, the same holiness, the same majesty, because the divine nature is one and the same for all three Persons. And that infinite communication of divine life between the three divine Persons had no beginning. Consequently, the Father did not exist before the Son, nor did the Father and Son exist prior to the Holy Spirit, for the divine nature of the three divine Persons is one and indivisible, infinite and eternal.
This boggles the mind if we try to think of it in terms of human generation. We must keep in mind that we are dealing with a profound mystery that even in the next life we will not fully comprehend. Theology makes a distinction to explain what we are saying. The eternal Father precedes His only-begotten Son, not by a priority of time, but by a priority of nature, that is, by the very nature of God’s knowledge of Himself, the Son being the perfect Image of the Father, begotten by the Father’s infinite and eternal act of contemplating His own divine essence. So this procession of the Son from the Father, and of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son is not something that happened before the beginning of time, but is an on-going and eternal act of God’s divine life, something that still continues in the depth of every soul in the state of grace (Jn. 14:23).
Everything the Son has or is, therefore, He received from the Father whose image He is. For example: Whenever the Son speaks - He says what the Father reveals to Him. “The words that I speak are not spoken of myself, it is the Father who lives in me accomplishing His works” (Jn. 14:10). “The word you hear is not mine, it comes from the Father who sent me” (Jn. 14:24). Whatever the Son does - He does in obedience to the Father. “Behold, I come to do your will, O God” (Heb. 10:7). “I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in His love” (Jn. 15:10). “Not my will, but yours be done” (Lk. 22:42).When Jesus says “I am the Life” (Jn. 14:6), it is the fullness of life received from the Father. When He says “I am the Truth” (ibid.), it is the fullness of truth received from the Father. When He says “all power in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Mt. 28:18), it is the fullness of power received from the Father. When St. John says “God is Love” (1 Jn. 4:16), he speaks of the divine Trinity; but the fullness of that love in the Son was received from the Father. That is why our Savior says “I am the way” (to the Father), for to know and love Jesus is to know and love the Father (Jn. 14:9). “No one can come to the Father except through Me” (Jn. 14:6).
We have considered this topic a bit in detail to bring into focus the hidden life of the Father in relation to the Son and the Holy Spirit; and to stress that “every good gift and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (Jas. 1:17), coming to us through the Son in the Holy Spirit. Every good act we perform motivated by charity, we do so because the Son - fulfilling the Father’s will - is acting in us, living His divine life in us (Gal. 2:20), and reaching out to others through us. So when we perform good works, or speak or defend the truth, it is the love and truth of the Father coming to us through the Son by the action of the Holy Spirit.
When the three divine Persons of the Trinity bestow on angels and men a participation of their own divine nature (through grace), they reproduce in them in a limited way a continuation of their own personal relationships. This supernatural life is imparted to souls through the Mystical Body of Christ, the divinely established medium for the communication of divine life to souls. When the only-begotten Son of God became man, as we saw, he did not cease to remain in the bosom of the Father in the eternal and indivisible relationship with Him and the Holy Spirit. Consequently, when the divine Word was conceived in the womb of Mary taking from her His human nature, that infinite and ineffable mystery of the Father begetting the Son and the Holy Spirit issuing from the mutual love of both of them continues in the divine nature of the God-man, the head of the Mystical Body.
So we see, just as the first communication of divine life within the Trinity is from the Father to the Son, so the first communication of divine life in the Mystical Body is from the Father to the Son, and through the action of the Holy Spirit to the members of that Body. This wonderful extension of the life of the Trinity to mankind was accomplished in the mystery of the incarnation, the 2000th anniversary of which we are preparing to celebrate.
An important effect of our membership in the Mystical Body of Christ is that we become adopted children of the Father. As adopted children we are, so to speak, drawn up with the Son to the bosom of the Father, for we too have been begotten by the Father, not by the necessity of divine nature as was the Son, but by grace. The Father embraces the whole Christ, i.e. His only-begotten Son and the members of His Body redeemed by His Blood and sharing His own divine life. As St. Thomas Aquinas points out, “as a certain likeness to divine goodness is conferred by the act of creation, so a likeness to natural sonship is conferred by the act of adoption” (III, 23, 1, ad 2). And he states further that it is more than a mere likeness, it is a participation. “Adoptive sonship is a certain participated likeness of natural sonship” (III, 3,5,ad 2).
As the Holy Spirit is the bond of love between the Father and the Son, He is also the bond of love between the divine Trinity and the members of the Mystical Body of Christ. The communication to souls of divine life coming from the Father and the Son is brought about by the Holy Spirit, who is their love in Person, their life-giving, sanctifying Spirit. We see how, then, through our incorporation into the Mystical Body of Christ, the three divine Persons are present and active in the whole fabric of our daily lives.
While focusing on the Eternal Father in these reflections, it might be will to bring up a question that is often asked. Since there are many feast days honoring Christ the Son of God, and a special feast honoring the Holy Spirit, one might wonder why there is no special feast honoring the Father. Pope Leo XIII answered that question in his encyclical on the Holy Spirit.
Theology is clear in affirming that all exterior acts of God, that is, all acts of God that affect creatures, are common to all three divine Persons acting as a single principle. As St. Thomas explains, “to produce any effect in creatures is common to the whole Trinity, by reason of the oneness of their nature; since where there is one nature there must be one power and one operation” (III, 23,3).
Since this is so, how do we explain the fact that the Scriptures, and Catholic spirituality in general, speaks of the Father as Creator, the Son as Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit as Sanctifier, etc. as if certain attributes of God are proper to one or other of the divine Persons. This manner of speaking is known as appropriation, and it is justifiable, for it helps us to understand better the intimate relations of the divine Persons within the Trinity. For example: the FATHER is the source of all, and proceeds from no one. For that reason works of origin and omnipotence (e.g. creation) are attributed to Him. Attributed to Him also is the wonderful providence with which God cares for all He has created. Even our Blessed Lord spoke in this way: “Your Father knows you need all these things” (Mt. 6:33). And since the SON proceeds from the Father by way of knowledge, works of wisdom are attributed to Him; while to the HOLY SPIRIT who proceeds from the Father and Son by way of love, are attributed works of love and the effects they bring. Yet all acts of God’s omnipotence, wisdom and love - are actions of the Trinity as a whole, and not of this or that individual Person.
Our Holy Father said in his letter preparing for the millennium that “the whole of the Christian life is a great pilgrimage to the house of the Father” whose merciful love for every human creature is so beautifully portrayed in the parable of the “prodigal son.” This pilgrimage, he says, takes place in the heart of every individual person. And that we might not lose our way on the “journey to the Father,” we must not forget there can be only one way to that destination, for Christ has said “I am the way” (Jn.14:9). “No one can come to the Father except through Me” (Jn. 14:6).
This journey to the Father, then, will require that we strive to become more like Christ whose life reveals the perfections of the Father, whose teaching reveals the wisdom and plan of the Father, and whose redeeming sacrifice reveals the merciful love of the Father. The more one advances in the footsteps of Christ, the more his life renders to the Father the glory that is due Him.
But this journey, the Holy Father explains, must involve a conversion of life, a liberation from habits of sin with the cleansing help of the Sacrament of penance, and the strengthening help of the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Since God is TRUTH, that journey necessitates an openness of mind and heart to the teachings of Christ handed down by the Church; and since God is LOVE, a special emphasis will be placed on returning God’s love through works of mercy.
Pope John Paul II has asked for these three preparatory years dedicated to each of the divine Persons of the Trinity to increase our faith in the sublime mystery of the Godhead, our love and admiration for the divine Persons, and our gratitude for their endless mercies towards us. His wish is that the celebration of the coming anniversary of the second millennium will in a special way “give glory to the Trinity from whom everything in the world and in history comes and to whom everything returns” (Tertio Millennio Adveniente, n.55).
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